Cam Newton: THE SKINNY

People like to say Cam Newton is the new prototype for NFL quarterbacks.

It’s a nice thought. His combination of speed, size and power are something almost every team would like to have at the position. The only issue is, there aren’t many quarterbacks the size of a rush end wandering around college campuses.

People who have other rooting interests in the NFC South probably aren’t happy about it, but Newton has a chance to become the face of the NFL. He’s one of the more unique talents in the league, and he can begin his ascension to that status by leading the Panthers to victory Sunday.

There isn’t much he can’t do. And trusting him to run the read-option will be key in neutralizing Broncos outside linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. If those guys are forced to stay home, it will make everything that much easier for the rest of the Carolina offense.

There aren’t many quarterbacks who can dictate the terms of the pass rush. Newton is one of them.

Peyton Manning: THE SKINNy

Old reliable has one more chance to change the narrative surrounding his career.

Disappears in big moments? Can’t win big games consistently? All of those knocks against Peyton Manning, perhaps the best regular-season quarterback of all time, can evaporate with a victory.

If the Broncos win, it probably won’t only be because of Manning. Just like some of his losses in Indianapolis and Denver weren’t entirely because of him. But that isn’t how these things work.

The fact Manning is even here is incredible. He no longer has the big arm he once had. He has to throw with more anticipation, and the quadrants of the field he can successfully attack have shrunk. While his mental ability at the position has always been one of the major keys to his success, that trait is even more important now.

Manning needs to make the throws he attempts and limit mistakes to find success. If he can do that, suddenly he becomes a guy with two rings instead of someone who lost two of his previous three chances to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

TOP MATCHUPS

Josh Norman vs. DEMARYIUS THOMAS

The Panthers have had issues in coverage during their past few games. That’s bad news with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders next on the docket. Carolina will have to decide where to deploy Josh Norman, who has emerged as one of the NFL’s better cornerbacks. Sanders has been more effective this season, although Thomas might be more talented. Since the Panthers like to move Sanders into the slot, Norman could end up being matched up against Thomas. A strong game could solidify his standing as one of the league’s best.

VON MILLER vs. CAROLINA’S PASS PROTECTION

The Broncos caused fits for Tom Brady and the Patriots during the AFC title game through effective blitzing and consistent pressure from their front four. It probably won’t be as easy against the Panthers, a running team that often operates out of heavier sets. So for Von Miller to shoot the edges as effectively, he’ll likely have extra layers of protection to contend with, such as a tight end. Denver will likely find opportunities to make things uncomfortable for Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, but it would be a surprise if it’s as frequent as it was against New England.

GREG OLSEN vs. T.J. WARD

The biggest key for the Broncos on defense will be to slow Panthers tight end Greg Olsen. Denver typically likes to use safety T.J. Ward on tight ends and could take a similar approach to what it did against New England’s Rob Gronkowski by having linebackers attempt to jam him in the box, and then letting Ward pick him up down the field. Carolina doesn’t have a lot of weapons on offense, and taking away quarterback Cam Newton’s security blanket could give the Broncos an advantage against Carolina’s passing attack.

Keys to victory

BRONCOS HAVE TO STOP THE RUN

If the Broncos can figure out how to neutralize the Panthers’ rushing attack — or get out to a big lead and force Carolina to pass the ball — then everything will become a lot easier. It will open up opportunities for the Denver pass rushers to pin their ears back and go after Newton, and then the Carolina receivers, who aren’t exactly a decorated group, will have to make plays against the Broncos’ solid secondary. Carolina’s offense is reliant on the threat of running. Take that away, and suddenly the Panthers are just another team, and Superman is just a man.

PANTHERS HAVE TO FORCE TURNOVERS

Peyton Manning’s deteriorating arm strength isn’t much of an issue when the Broncos are protecting the ball and moving down the field. And one of the keys to Carolina’s success of late is getting off to fast starts and building early leads. That’s how the Panthers survived against the Seattle Seahawks. For the Panthers to get the edge in this battle of the defenses, they’ll need to force Manning into mistakes and entice him to take more chances down the field. Once that happens, more opportunities will exist, and Carolina can take control of the game.

THE ADVOCATE SAYS ...

NICK UNDERHILL: PANTHERS 24, BRONCOS 17

I think this is Carolina’s time to shine. It just feels like it’s Cam Newton’s time to shine. Experience matters and Denver has the edge there, but that only comes into play when the stage becomes too large for an inexperienced team or player. It’s hard to imagine that any moment is too big for Newton. He thrives in the spotlight. Something says he runs away with this one.

JOEL A. ERICKSON: BRONCOS 24, PANTHERS 21

Nobody ever takes the defenses into acount. While everyone worries and pontificates about Peyton Manning and whether or not the Broncos can move the ball against the Panthers defense, Carolina has to beat the NFL’s best defense this season, a unit that is much more than just Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. All Peyton has to do is take care of the ball, and the Broncos’ D will take care of the rest.

SCOTT RABALAIS: PANTHERS 33, BRONCOS 20

I want to say Peyton Manning will go out in a blaze of glory, but I can’t. I would like to sagely predict Carolina’s Cam Newton will fade in the harsh glare of his Super Bowl, but I won’t. The Panthers have been the NFL’s best team all season and will prove it in the biggest game. Manning and the Broncos will try gamely to catch up from a big early deficit, but it won’t nearly be enough.